I am deeply impressed by the Greek culture and their approach, customs towards their daily life. Even if they don’t realize it (because they are insiders), their customs contain deep wisdom and can have a deep impact on their attitude towards life. As an outsider (xeno) I have tried to research for many years now what is really behind this special “Greek way of living” that captures the soul of the ‘western tourist’ even during a short Greek holiday. Of course there is not only one secret, because trying to understand a culture is very complex – maybe a lifetime is not enough for that. But for now let me introduce you a custom, a glimpse at one tiny ingredient of the “Greek life” through a beautiful ceremony. Because I found that Greeks have a special approach towards new beginnings. Why is it special? Because they are able to stop sometimes, to celebrate particular moments of life and fill them with spirit, gratitude and care.
Our words as mantras
The attitude of the Greeks towards new beginnings is fundamentally different than ours – Hungarians. The Greek language is full of felicitations which are attached to beginnings. Just the way they say ‘Kalimera’ (= Have a good day!) sounds like a happy melody and in the tonality of this expression you can feel a kind of joy. And anyway, if you wish something than fill it with love and smile and do not let the routine to overcome your real intention. Give energy to your words.
And so there are some other beginnings where Greeks wish something good. Like:
- Wishing a good week on Mondays: καλή εβδομάδα! (kali evdomada)
- Wishing a good month on the first day of each month: καλό μήνα! (kalo mina)
- Wishing a good winter: καλό χειμώνα! (kalo himona)
- Wishing a good summer, or season: καλό καλοκαίρι! / καλό σεζόν! (kalo kalokairi / kalo sezon)
- Wishing good carrier when somone starts a new job: καλή σταδιοδρομία! (kali stadiodromia)
- Beginning of a pregnacy they wish a kind of easy and joyful release or labour: καλή λευτεριά! (kali lefteria)
- When somebody buys a new vehicle they wish a good ‘roadlife’ with the new vehicle: καλοτάξιδο! (kalotaxido)
- When someone moves to a new home they wish: Καλορίζικο! (kaloriziko)
I think that the words and expressions that we use are our personal mantras, they have power. So the way how we communicate with our words and the messages that we deliver to each other are directly influencing our mood, feelings and create a certain direction in our life. A blessing or good wish is a simple gesture and has a huge power. The more we use them the more we focus on the good things. The beginning of something (whatever beginning) is always a particular moment. It contains the unknown, the uncertain, but it is naturally full of hope and exticement for a new adventure. My past experience is that people in Hungary most of the time approach the new beginnings with fear and worry for potential obstacles and risks. This divergence could have a lot of reasons of course but one thing is sure: in our culture we do not practice any ritual attached to day-to-day new beginnings. I do believe that our customs can effect our mindset and life – especially if we understand the meaning of these customs, not only practice them by routine. Just think about it: how much does somebody’s encouragement mean to us when we start something new (a new business, study, travel, relationship, etc)? An encouraging or discouraging environment can affect our life tremendously.
A special opening ceremony
One day, during my last summer stay on Rhodes island, I accidently found myself in the middle of a ceremony which embodies this Greek philosophy towards new beginnings. It was a mixture of cultural, social and religious experience where I could really feel the power of respecting the beginnings in life. This event was the opening ceremony of a folklore museum of Archangelos village on the 30th September 2017. It was not only special for me, but for the locals also as this was the first museum that introduced the folklore tradition of this very remarkable village and it was carried out by a 20-year-old local man, Βασίλης Αναστόπουλος (Vasilis Anastopoulos) realising his childhood dream.
This opening included the following experiences for me:
- it was a cultural insight into the local folk tradition – made even more exclusive by the fact that we were the first ones who could visit the place
- I could experience the cohesion of a community, and the significance of people expressing their love, joy, congratulation towards the other person
- I had the possibility to participate on the religious ceremony of ‘agiasmo’ (αγιασμό), which was held as part of the opening
In addition to the good wishes and felicitations the Greek religion has a ritual for blessing a new house, building, or business. The ‘agiasmo’ is the essential part of an ‘opening event’ where people express their gratitude to God (or the ‘higher’ powers) for letting them build something up and asking for blessing for a succesful and healthy future for the place and the people inside. For me on the other hand it is a gesture of humility. Accepting the fact that man is not alone in this World humbled by Life and Nature. Expressing gratitude through this ritual fends off the belief that we have a basic right to achieve anything in this life.
On the Greek islands, where earthquakes are frequent guests there was an ancient custom that constisted on burying a sacrifice (the blood of a rooster, a shoe of a family member, or a golden coin – flouria) inbetween the foundation of a building to remind the people that each and every result requires sacrifice in life. I guess that in general where the natural disasters are more frequent, there the people are more sensitive and respectful of the forces of Nature.
Today in Greece whenever a new house or building is built, a priest is invited to do the ritual of ‘agiasmo’ to chase the ‘bad spirits’ away and to bless the place and the people inside. This is part of the opening ceremony, and the guests usually bring flowers, plants in a pot, or some wall decorations as a present. On the islands people usually serve drinks and snacks for the guests.
And this is how it happened too during this beautiful, modest and really alive opening ceremony of the folklore museum of Archangelos village. Vasilis and his family were offering drinks and the typical local sweet of Archangelos the ξεροτηγανα (xerotigana), and most of the guests brought flowers in a pot as a present. You could feel the excitement, the joy in the air. Everybody was smiling and gathering around the entrance excitedly waiting for the special moment when Βασίλης (Vasilis) – the young dreamer and creator of the museum – and his beloved teacher Τσαμπíκα Τσακίρη (Tsambíka Tsakíri) would open the entrance for the audience.
And when the door finally opened, people entered into the space with huge admiration. Elders, youngsters, family members, friends, locals came to congratulate Vasilis and share the joy of this big day. I was just standing in the middle of it all, soaking up this beautiful energy that surrounded me. Everybody one by one expressed their gratitude and respect to Vasilis for his great, beautiful, prestigious and tiresome job. The buliding filled up with happiness, admiration, respectful words and looks and many many smiles.
The ritual of ‘agiasmo’
Soon the priest also came to perform the ‘agiasmo’ next to the big table in the center of the room. The materials for the ritual were prepared on the table:
- candle – which symbolizes the light of the resurrection
- a round shaped vessel – which symbolizes a chalice and the cohesion of a community
- there is water in the vessel, which is blessed by the priest and which has the symbol of health, transformation and purity
- a ceramic incense burner with coal and incense – which facilitates the spiritual opening, purifies the space and symbolizes the prayers for God which are lifting upwards through the smoke
- a bouquet of basil – the priest put it in the holy/blessed water and later blessed the space with the help of this bouquet
- a cross
During the ritual the priest blesses the water in the round vessel with the cross. He dips the basil into the water, then blesses the space in 4 different directions and saying a prayer to protect the building from the evil forces. But not only the building receives the blessing, but the family members and friends too. The priest touches everyone’s crown with the wet basil to have the blessing of the holy water – the agiasmos (αγιασμός). I was lucky enough to receive this blessing too, because of course I was in the first line with my camera to document everything as a journalist. 🙂 I hope this blessing will have a long term impact on my life…
The remaining holy water (agiasmos) in the vessel is not thrown away of course, they use it for different things: people place it on the house altar (iconostasio) for later use, or they water the plants with it.
If you watch the photos carefully you can spot one more thing around the middle table: a photo of an old lady. It is because, in the past, the building of the museum belonged to this lady from Archangelos (αρχαγγελίτισσα / arhangelitissa), so it is natural to put her memory in the middle of the room. Gratitude, respect, memento.
For me the story of this museum and the way how Vasilis made his dream come true was really interesting and unique, so I asked Vasilis about his big project:
Mariann Lipcsei: When and how did the idea come about this museum? What was your motivation?
Vasilis Anastopoulos: Since my childhood I have been collecting objects of the folk art of Archangelos and Rhodes in general. I saved these objects in boxes and storages and my dream was a museum with all of these objects in a traditional house (natural space). My motivation was: we are the biggest village on the island with amazing tradition and we didn’t have a museum.
LM: How did you choose the house for the museum?
VA: I have chosen an old traditional house without modern interventions. At the first sight I said: “This is the perfect house for my dream!”
LM: How long did it take to open the museum?
VA: I was working alone very hard for two years. I prefer to work alone because I believe that You are the one who can accomplish your dreams and plans the best. You know them better that anybody else.
LM: Who helped you with this project and how?
VA: My family was the only who helped me. Since my childhood I remember the family gifts for my birthdays – they were antiques from Archangelos!
LM: What was the most difficult part of it? What did you enjoy the most?
VA: The most difficult part and the most enjoyable was the same: the installation of plates on the walls. 🙂
LM: Who and when can visit the museum now?
VA: During winter period the museum is closed, but anyone can visit it after consultation. /the facebook page of the museum HERE/
LM: What are your further plans with the museum?
VA: My farther’s plan is to write a small catalog with the objects of the museum and the story behind each object.
LM: How did you like the opening?
VA: The opening was amazing for me because I could see my dream to become reality. I will remember forever all those smiles of the visitors.
Just to sum up the thoughts that came to me after this beautiful event:
- …good job requires time, but at the end it really is worth it!
- Do not give your dreams up!
- Help and encourage each other for new beginnings! Through our honest attention and trust give energy to others to make a change in their life!
- Do not forget to celebrate the special moments of life! Stop sometimes to say thank you for the things you have!
- The gathering of people who express love and respect has a really great power!
More photos about this event: HERE
The video of the agiasmo: